Raabia Hawa

Executive Director, Ulinzi Africa Foundation

How can I adequately describe my gratitude to all of you?

What an incredible journey I have had the privilege of being on… my deep love for wildlife now runs not only in my veins, but has finally sprung to life.

Ulinzi Africa Foundation. When we launched in 2014 as East Africa’s first non-profit focused on improving ranger welfare, empowerment and facilitation, I never imagined we would gain as much traction and support as we have in our short lifespan as an organisation. For this, I wish to extend my heartfelt gratitude to all our donors and supporters; with your help we are already mobilising rangers in critical ecosystems in Kenya.

In a decade of active involvement on the ground, particularly on anti-poaching and desnaring operations, I have seen and endured much. Emotions run high as does the adrenaline whenever there is a chase or a successful rescue or arrest, and I am often asked to recount events over campfires and into cameras. Such was my life of adventure before the harsh reality struck and my life changed. It was no longer enough to raise awareness and shout from the rooftops about all that I saw, it was time to do something and fix this problem.

In Spring of 2011, I had the opportunity to visit and work in a very special place in Kenya. A coastal forest teeming with the wildest of game, and home to birthing grounds of our most precious elephants. I had many notable experiences here, but one that shifted the course of my life to what it is today. My first day on patrol in the coastal forests…

It began early in the morning, with a notably demoralised team that had no facilitation for mobility. We drove into the forested patch that adjoins the beachfront to the waterpans across the savannah grasslands, and I laced up my boots, ready to begin the day’s work. I didn’t realise how bad the poaching situation was here on the afternoon of my arrival, it seemed so picturesque and peaceful.

That changed dramatically when I nearly walked right into a rope snare within the first three minutes of our patrol. The first thing I noticed was the type of snares being so different to the wire snares I was so used to from Tsavo. These would be hard to spot, set using natural vines and the anchor rope (most likely sourced from what washes ashore on the beachfront) and is dug under bark and soil. It was also difficult to track any footprints as the forest cover here is extremely dense, and the leaves fall and cover everything within a matter of hours. I knew this would be challenging, and soon the forest smells began to engulf us as we moved further in.

Wafts of humid wind from the seaside blew through the forest where we were, carrying with them the smell of carcass upon carcass; and leaving me for the first time, feeling physically ill. I barely signaled for a break, when we arrived at what seemed to be the core zone for harvesting poached bushmeat. This ‘Bush Butchery’ as it’s known locally, absolutely tore me to pieces inside. Barely fifteen minutes prior, we were walking amongst herds of wild grazing game and getting excited over lion spoor, and now here I was, literally stumbling upon freshly poached buffalo heads, and almost walking right into hanging buffalo legs in the trees. The sight was gruesome, and after a recovery of a large heap of snares, it was time to head back to camp.

I set my bag down and took off my boots and took a deep breath. Tears began rolling down my face. This was the end of my work in conservation, I thought to myself. I couldn’t possibly do anything about this situation, it was beyond any help at all and we just have to come to the realisation that wildlife has no place in the future anymore. I had given up. Those brown boots I got from the army shop in the U.K. would never do another patrol again and I would go back to strappy heels and television.

I was exhausted and went to bed. After quite a nice and well-deserved lie-in, I got up the next day and as I was brushing my teeth, looked up to see all the rangers, in formation and in uniform, and they said ‘Tuko tayari mama, tunaenda?’ (‘We’re ready ma’am, are we going?’). Shocked, I responded positively, got my uniform and boots on, and never looked back ever since. I was not going to give up on this place, and nine years on, remain as determined as I was then, to save the wildlife in these critical and dense forests. Today, we are working together with the Kenya Wildlife Service and have deployed our rangers to these forested areas to mitigate the poaching and begin placing a protective shield around these vital habitats.

For me, this was a mission that led to the formation of Ulinzi Africa Foundation, inspired also by the critical message we tried to get across on the challenges these men and women on the frontlines endure every day in protecting wildlife. The Walk With Rangers awareness walk we did from Arusha (Tanzania) to Nairobi (Kenya) in 2014, spiralled into a fundraising success and situational experience with immense educational value. We trekked more than 450 kilometres over 15 days enduring harsh varied terrain and weather conditions to show solidarity with rangers in Africa, recognising that they are the ultimate protectors and guardians of nature.

It is my hope that Ulinzi Africa Foundation will continue to grow and begin making critical changes with your support in these remote regions of immense biodiversity value before it is too late to salvage. Indeed in protecting these conservation pockets in Africa, we protect our very souls.

With hope for Africa,

Raabia Hawa

Executive Director, Ulinzi Africa Foundation

Honorary Warden, Kenya Wildlife Service

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